The Phillies completed a stretch of six straight games against two National League division leaders on Wednesday night.
They lost all six of those games — a skid that dropped them under .500 for the first time since April 24 — and were outscored by a margin of 22 runs over that span.
In other words, this team has many miles to go in its rebuild, but you already knew that.
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“We know where we need to go and we’re not there yet,” manager Pete Mackanin said after that sixth straight loss, a 7-2 setback at the hands of the NL East-leading Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).
Before losing three straight at home to the Nats, the Phillies were swept in Wrigley Field by a Chicago Cubs team that has the majors’ best record.
Not that long ago, the Cubs were a rebuilding team, like these Phillies are now.
“We’d like to be where the Cubs are with their young players,” Mackanin said. “Changes are going to be made over the course of the season. At what time, I’m not quite sure.”
Mackanin made a significant change before Wednesday night’s game. He informed Ryan Howard that he would sit for “three or four” games while Tommy Joseph got an extended look in the middle of the batting order (see story).
Joseph went hitless Wednesday night, but he wasn’t the only one. Powerful Washington right-hander Max Scherzer dominated the Phillies for eight innings. He gave up just two runs on a Tyler Goeddel homer in the seventh and he struck out 11.
“That was a pretty tough pitcher out there,” Mackanin said.
Joseph did line out hard to left field in the seventh inning. Howard pitch-hit in the ninth against lefty Oliver Perez. He flied out to center field to end the game.
The Phillies’ offense continued to sputter. They had just six hits — to Washington’s 12 — and were held to two or fewer runs for the 21st time in 53 games. They are averaging 3.13 runs per game, the lowest mark in the majors.
“Lack of offense,” Mackanin said broken-record style.
Mackanin gave inconsistent Maikel Franco a night off. He’ll be back in there Thursday night.
“I anticipate Franco coming around,” Mackanin said. “We need a guy in the middle of the lineup to drive some runs in.”
Washington followed up Tuesday night’s four-homer game with two more Wednesday night.
The Phils have been out-homered, 13-3, during their six-game losing streak.
Phillies starter Adam Morgan trailed just 2-0 before giving up two home runs. They both came in the sixth inning when the game got away from him and the Phils. Morgan allowed two hits to open the inning then surrendered a three-run homer to Wilson Ramos. Two batters later, he gave up a solo shot to Danny Espinosa.
Morgan has had a tough go of it lately and his place in the rotation may be getting tenuous. He has lost four straight starts. His ERA over that span is 9.61. Overall, he is 1-4 with a 7.07 ERA in seven starts since his recall from Triple A.
“He seems like he’s on the verge of getting through it, but then he makes mistakes, too many mistakes out over the plate in the strike zone,” Mackanin said. “I’d like to see him pitch inside more to right-handed hitters. He hasn’t been effective. He’s made too many mistakes and he hasn’t finished hitters off.
“He’s got stuff, but a lot of guys have stuff. In order to be successful you can’t make mistakes. You’ve got to keep the ball down and hit the corners and change speeds. That’s how you become a good major-league pitcher. He’s got the stuff and the instincts, but this is a results-oriented business, especially here. You have to get results here and you can’t make mistakes.”
Morgan did not make excuses. Never does.
“I left some balls up in the sixth inning,” he said. “It was a bad time to make mistakes. You can’t take them back. You can’t leave balls up.”
The schedule softens up for the Phillies these next four days with the Milwaukee Brewers in town. Like the Phils, the Brewers have a losing record. The Phils took two of three from the Brewers last month in Milwaukee and need to get back on track because … well, the Cubs come to town after the Brewers and the Phils have already seen how good they are.